Float like a Butterfly

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ California Scuba Diving BBS ] [ FAQ ]

Posted by Merry on December 03, 2012 at 10:09:18:

0 Corolla

One of the most enchanting and graceful gelatinous blobs in midwater has to be the sea butterfly, Corolla spectabilis. Members of the subclass Opisthobranchia, they’re planktonic members of the wide, wide world of sea slugs.

Because sea butterflies belong to a family of animals that are descendents of gastropods, portions of the molluscan foot have been modified to form swimming wings. Corolla is generally a passive drifter. However, at any disturbance, it vigorously flaps its oval wingplate, propelling itself past surprised divers with remarkable speed. Nearly transparent with a swimming rate of eighteen inches per second, a fleeting glimpse is often all one gets.

1 Corolla

2 Corolla
Illustration taken from John A. McGowan The Veliger, Vol. 3, May 1, 1968.

3 Corolla

Planktonic survival depends on maintaining buoyancy, and expending as little energy as possible to offset sinking. Consequently, the fragile sea butterfly has no shell. Its internal organs are supported by a gelatinous pseudoconch, which is neutrally buoyant.

Perhaps tubercles serve to increase surface area, which would further reduce the sinking rate.

4 Corolla

The darkly pigmented spots around the periphery of the wing margin are light sensing organs. A strobe flash may send the animal bobbing and weaving.

5 Corolla

A fascinating and almost unimaginable feature of the sea butterfly is the unique way in which it captures food. It starts with a row of mucous glands embedded in the wing margin.

6 Corolla

In combination with an internal pallial gland, these glands produce sticky mucous which is then formed by the proboscis into a delicate feeding web, which can be many times larger than the animal.

6B Corolla

The web traps planktonic particles ranging from bacteria to single cell algae to copepods and other crustaceans. As ciliary pathways convey the web to the mouth, the grooves of the proboscis consolidate the whole enchilada into a string. Sorting occurs, some food and mucus are rejected, and the rest is consumed.

The next time sea butterflies are in town, watch the motionless ones closely, as they most likely have a flat or funnel-shaped web extended.

7 Corolla

8 Corolla

Corolla spectabilis actually swims backwards, pushing its pseudoconch forward, with the mouth and feeding web bringing up the rear. The proboscis always stays in contact with the web. If disturbed, the animal may shed the web and swim away. Unfortunately, a strobe flash sometimes qualifies as a disturbance!

Follow Ups:

Optional Link URL:
Optional Link Title:
Optional Image URL:
Post Background Color: White     Black
Post Area Page Width: Normal   Full
You must type in the
scrambled text key to
the right.
This is required to
help prevent spam bots
from flooding this BBS.
Text Key: